MSNBC debate moderator Tim Russert put Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the spot by asking him whether he accepted the support of the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan.
The same question was asked yesterday in a written statement from Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, in a nod to the state's large Jewish population.
Rival Hillary Clinton pushed back a bit at Obama's response tonight. Here are excerpts:
Obama: "I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him..."
Russert: "Do you reject his support?"
Obama: "I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy...."
Russert: "The problem some voters may have is that as you know, Rev. Farrakhan called Judaism a gutter religion."
Obama: "I am very familiar with his record, as are the American people, which is why I have consistently denounced it...I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign, and the reason is that I have been a stalwart friend of Israel...Not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but also because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American community and the Jewish community. I would not be sitting here would it not for a whole host of Jewish-Americans who supported the civil rights movement and helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. That coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task in this process is to make sure those lines of communication and understanding are reopened..."
Clinton: "You asked specifically if he would reject it and there's a different between denouncing and rejecting...I just think we have got be even stronger..."
Obama: "I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it, but if the word 'reject' Sen. Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' than I'm happy to concede the point and I'm happy to reject and denounce."